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Mander Organs
Martin Cooke

Westminster Abbey

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I am sure that many forum members watched/listened to the service from the Abbey last evening. If you didn't, there were any number of points of interest, musically - a new anthem by Judith Weir which sounded to me as if it would repay a further visit, but especially, an exquisite performance of Elgar's The Spirit of the Lord - and Peter Holder's accompaniment of it was simply wonderful. You can catch the Westminster Abbey Solo French Horn twice during the performance - just towards the end of the organ introduction, and then again a few seconds or two before the end of the anthem... and very good it sounds, too. I believe French Horns are not always very convincing - as choristers at St Paul's, we used to listen out for it in this anthem, but I remember it being rather a weak and quiet stop, but my memory could easily be playing tricks. Whatever, the Abbey's can be heard by all in this broadcast and it sounds spot on to me. 

And then, I was sent running to the internet to find out what the organ voluntary was... York Bowen, Fantasia in G minor - what a piece!

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The whole service was absolutely wonderful.  Professional, edifying and uplifting.  Everything was so very well done.  The icing on the cake for me was the dignified speed of the hymns, which were absolutely right for the large congregation present (although arguably Blaenwern was pushing it just a small fraction) and the two last verse arrangements were models of the type. That's how a church service should be conducted.

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I echo all the thoughts about the service expressed above.

It sounded to me, listening with a mid-price soundbar and subwoofer, as if the pedal reeds were more forceful than I remember either from other recordings or being in the building. Has any revoicing been done recently or was it likely to have been simply the placement of the BBC's microphones?

 

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As Harrison's website explains, the pedal reeds were relocated from the south to the north triforium behind the Bombarde section to enable work in the south triforium. To my ears,  they now have less impact from their new position if you're hearing the organ from the choir, but for those sitting west of the screen...⚠️

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Thank you Wolsey, that will explain the apparent change in volume in the broadcast. Time for another visit, I think...

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I've just listened to parts of this fitting Service for the second time.

Being 200% Welsh, I intend that Blaenwern be sung at my funeral - albeit to the 1747 words of Charles Wesley: "Love Divine, all loves excelling".

I find the tempo perfectly judged and note that HM found it sufficiently stirring to sing along with the creditable volume (almost amounting to hwyl) emanating from the congregation. In this, and were it in my gift, I would accord them honorary citizenship.

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Very much enjoyed the "last verse" arrangements.  Did big last verses go "out of fashion"?   It seems that some organists do them and others don't. Are they considered vulgar? (bearing in mind that good taste is the enemy of great art). The Abbey organ certainly seemed to make its presence felt....

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A couple of times a year the Anglican parish which my wife attends, which usually meets in a school, borrows the Dorpskerk (lit. village church) in Voorschoten, especially for a 9 Lessons and Carols service, to which all are welcome. As this is so different from any Dutch service, there's a pleasing amount of local interest and attendance, so when playing I do prepare some nice last verses, and perhaps a few arrangements in between. But the nature of the organ has led me to play arrangements without big registrations - it seems to work better to have a nice plenum and just leave it alone, and let the progression and harmonies speak for themselves. To an extent, of course, the instrument dictates this, having no swell, no celestes, no 32', no registration aids, and an awkward pedal arrangement, but it nevertheless enables the same effect of emphasising whatever the intention of the last verse is without showing off - I hope!

And the instrument which has all of these "shortcomings" but which is still such a joy to play English music, last verses and all, on is

https://www.orgelsite.nl/kerken22/voorschoten.html

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This looks to be a lovely instrument.  At the bottom of the web page (beneath Home) click on “Zurück” to find a wealth of modern and historic Dutch organs - along with two English invaders by Forster and Andrews and a much older Longman and Bates.  I suspect that there are hundreds more Dutch organs on this website.

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In fact if you just go to www.orgelsite.nl you get to the home page of this fantastic website. The premise is very simple, it contains the disposition and a few pictures of thousands of Dutch organs, as well as some from other countries, and is searchable by location and builder. Using Google's automatic translation it's probably pretty easy to search, and see just how many English organs are lurking here! Sadly, the person who set it up, Wim Verburg, died in 2010 aged 44, so I don't know whether it is updated. But it is a wonderful, colourful, and informative legacy.

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As usual with anything from Westminster Abbey - the service was beautifully conceived and executed!

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On 17/11/2018 at 15:54, quentinbellamy said:

Very much enjoyed the "last verse" arrangements.  Did big last verses go "out of fashion"?   It seems that some organists do them and others don't. Are they considered vulgar? (bearing in mind that good taste is the enemy of great art). The Abbey organ certainly seemed to make its presence felt....

I've always been a fan of a good last reharmonisation and in most circumstances much prefer one to a descant with a few exceptions such as Andrew Fletcher's "Hark the Herald" and one to Divinum Mysterium we used to do at Warwick. Last verse jobs do seem to have gone out of fashion although I don't go to nearly as many services in cathedrals and other churches with good organists as I once did. When much younger I went to a residential accompaniment course at Addington Palace and learned a huge amount, including the art of last verses, most of which I seem to have lost over the years.

In my own small way I always try to vary the harmonies of at least one hymn per service but bearing in mind there are rarely more than 15 in the congregation and the organ is, umm, limited, I have to be circumspect. One funny story from recent years. In our annual carol service not long ago there was a woman in the congregation with a very pronounced and uncontrolled vibrato coupled to a loud voice and apparently equally large ego. She was the sort that would finish a loud carol by say, going to the upper 5th and then the tonic an octave higher to finish. In "O Come all ye Faithful" I had prepared an alternative harmony for the final verse ("Sing Choirs of...." as it was before Christmas) but she took it it upon herself to belt out the Willcocks descant in competition.  Even with the limited organ, I won. Enough to say that she didn't hang about for the mince pies... 😈

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6 hours ago, handsoff said:

One funny story from recent years. In our annual carol service not long ago there was a woman in the congregation with a very pronounced and uncontrolled vibrato coupled to a loud voice and apparently equally large ego. She was the sort that would finish a loud carol by say, going to the upper 5th and then the tonic an octave higher to finish. In "O Come all ye Faithful" I had prepared an alternative harmony for the final verse ("Sing Choirs of...." as it was before Christmas) but she took it it upon herself to belt out the Willcocks descant in competition.  Even with the limited organ, I won. Enough to say that she didn't hang about for the mince pies... 😈

You should have modulated up a couple of notes and made her struggle!

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